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Doru Costache - Queen of the Sciences?

Doru Costache - Queen of the Sciences?

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Published by Doru Costache
this is a larger version of a paper I delivered a few months ago (it does not contain the more or less fortunate editorial reworking of the published version). the article deals with the very balanced and nuanced attitude of St Gregory Palamas concerning the interaction of theology and science, attempting to dismantle the myth of theology as the queen of all sciences. the method I applied in order to interpret the data borrows from transdisciplinarity
this is a larger version of a paper I delivered a few months ago (it does not contain the more or less fortunate editorial reworking of the published version). the article deals with the very balanced and nuanced attitude of St Gregory Palamas concerning the interaction of theology and science, attempting to dismantle the myth of theology as the queen of all sciences. the method I applied in order to interpret the data borrows from transdisciplinarity

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Published by: Doru Costache on Feb 16, 2009
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02/27/2011

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[
Transdisciplinarity in Science and Religion
3 (Bucharest: Curtea Veche, 2008) 27-46]
Queen of the Sciences? Theology and Natural Knowledge in StGregory Palamas’
One Hundred and Fifty Chapters
Doru CostacheSt Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological CollegeAs a Church father, mystical theologian, spiritual guide and incisive polemicist against thenon-ecclesial epistemology of many among the fourteenth century Byzantine intellectuals, StGregory Palamas (ca. 1296-1359) exhibits in one of his later writings
1
 an impressive command of the ‘profane arts’. The work in question,
One Hundred and Fifty Chapters: Natural and Theological, Ethical and Practical, and on Purification from the Barlaamite Defilement 
2
,shows atleast in its first section (chapters 1-29) the author’s balanced understanding of – and criticalappreciation for – the natural sciences, together with his genuine aptitude for logic and scientificreasoning. It also demonstrates Palamas’ impressive discernment, a discernment which skilfullytraces the specific capabilities and possible points of interaction between theology and sciencewithout, however, confounding the domains.This article argues that whilst Palamas is similar to many other medieval scholars in his trueinterest and expertise in scientific matters,……….28……….he nevertheless distinguishes himself by abandoning the classical scheme that considered theologyas the queen of all sciences, on the one hand, and science and philosophy as handmaidens of theology, on the other. At the origin of this shift lies more than likely St Gregory’s authenticChristian mindset, which marks the inherent differences between worldly knowledge (asrepresented by science and philosophy) and the wisdom from above (as revealed to the saints andwitnessed by the Scriptures); from the outset, it should be noted that this approach is consistentwith the transdisciplinary methodology. On the whole, and considering the difficulties experienced by modern scholars in classifying this compilation, the
Chapters
add new dimensions to thealready complex portrait of their author.This essay will explore the literary context of the
Chapters
, sketching the Byzantine evolution
1
Concerning the date of publication (sometimes between 1349 and 1350), see R.E. Sinkewicz in
Saint Gregory Palamas: The One Hundred and Fifty Chapters – A Critical Edition, Translation and Study
, Studiesand Texts series no. 83
 
(Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1988) 49-54; P. Chrestou,
«Εἰσαγωγή»
(Introduction), in
 
Γρηγορίου Παλαμᾶ
,
Κεφάλαια ἑκατὸν πεντήκοντα φυσικὰ καὶθεολογικά, ἠθικά τε καὶ πρακτικά, καὶ καθαρτικὰ τῆς Βαρλααμίτιδος λύμης
 
(referred to from now onas
 
Κεφάλαια
),
 
Ἂπαντα τὰ Ἒργα
 
vol. 8 (
Θεσσαλονίκη
:
 
 Τὸ Βυζάντιον
 
&
Γρηγόριος Ό Παλαμᾶς
, 1994)8, 28, 30; G.C. Papademetriou,
Introduction to St Gregory Palamas
(Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press,2004) 18; P. Sherard & K. Ware, ‘St Gregory Palamas: Introductory Note’, in
The Philokalia
, vol. 4 (London:Faber & Faber, 1995) 290-1.
2
This is my rendition of the original title. However, the English version of the
Chapters
referred tothroughout my article is the one published in
The Philokalia
, vol.
 
4 (London: Faber & Faber, 1995), where thetitle reads
Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and  Fifty Texts
(referred to from now on as
Topics
). For all references to the text, I have compared this Englishversion against the original edited by Chrestou in
 
Γρηγορίου Παλαμᾶ
,
 
Ἂπαντα τὰ Ἒργα
 
vol. 8; whennecessary, I made the appropriate changes. I have also consulted the original text and translation offered bySinkewicz in
Saint Gregory Palamas
82-113. 1
 
of the genre to which they belong – as a prerequisite for a proper understanding of the work’snature – and mostly its anthological character. It will proceed to outline the structure of the book,referring mainly to its first section, which is of immediate interest to the topic. The scriptural background of Palamas’ thinking will be subsequently analysed, together with his views on thevarious competencies of theology and the natural sciences. Finally, the essay will emphasise therelevance of St Gregory’s approach for contemporary conversations on science and theology.
The literary genre of ‘chapters’: a brief history
The title of the work in question, the
Chapters
, is indicative of both a literary genre widelyknown throughout the monastic milieus and the customary patristic preference for a non-systemicapproach towards various topics. The tradition of the chapters (
κεφάλαια
) was established in Egypt by the erudite ascetic Evagrius Ponticus (fourth century)
3
, and its original purpose was to assist thedaily monastic practice of mystical contemplation. As such, the chapters had from the outsetconstituted a source of insight and inspiration, aiming at spiritual formation rather than servingdoctrinal purposes. In spite of a series of successive transformations occurring with the genre, thisformative dimension survived throughout the Byzantine era primarily through liturgicalhymnography, such as, for example, St Andrew of Cretes
Great Canon
4
,whose stanzas in factrepresent the chapters arranged in the form of hymnographical verse.……….29……….Concerning their morphological and functional development it is interesting to note that fromthe initial almost aphoristic sentences dealing with spiritual topics, the
 
κεφάλαια
 
evolved into a polemical tool and a way to disseminate concise information that was very similar to Clement theAlexandrian’s
Miscellanies
. Closely related to this change is the fact that in their historical pilgrimage the chapters began to progressively incorporate material from a different source, the so-called ‘chains’ or anthologies of thematic citations from the holy fathers
5
.This appropriationexplains why the later Byzantine chapters, albeit with certain exceptions, addressed mostlydoctrinal topics, their original character becoming in time secondary. In line with thesedevelopments, and despite their title suggesting themes that were related to the spiritual journey, StGregory’s
Chapters
seem to have been devised above all as a summary of the faith and a refutationof his opponents’ epistemology. Nevertheless, given that this work almost undoubtedly appears to be a compilation, as suggested by the title and its tripartite structure (see below), it is difficult to pinpoint the common denominator for all the chapters. Despite this difficulty, it is abundantly clear that within this work the above mentioned monastic and mystical features are still visible, as, for example, in the reiteration of the tradition of the saints as constituting the ultimate spiritualauthority
6
.
3
Cf. Chrestou,
«Εἰσαγωγή»
 
7; A. Louth, ‘The literature of the monastic movement’, in F. Young, L. Ayres &A. Louth (eds.),
The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature
(Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 2004) 377-8.
4
See J. Meyendorff,
The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church
(Crestwood: St Vladimir’s SeminaryPress, 2001) 37-8; D. Costache, ‘Reading the Scriptures with Byzantine Eyes: The HermeneuticalSignificance of St Andrew of Crete’s Great Canon’,
 Phronema
23 (2008) 53.
5
For example, the Palamite
Chapters
cite from, and allude to, the following Church fathers: St Athanasius theGreat (chapters 61, 79, 114), St Basil the Great (chapters 56, 68, 71, 72, 76, 82, 83, 84, 88, 93, 109, 111, 122,143, 146), St Cyril of Alexandria (chapters 73, 96, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 124, 143), St Dionysiusthe Areopagite (chapters 65, 69, 77, 78, 79, 81, 85, 86, 87, 88, 90, 91, 106, 107, 122, 126), St Gregory theTheologian (chapters 49, 64, 77, 107, 109, 111, 124, 128, 130, 131, 146, 149), St Gregory of Nyssa (chapters49, 52, 109, 112), St John Chrysostom (chapters 66, 74, 77, 95, 108, 110), St John Damascene (chapters 73,80, 127, 129, 130, 131, 138, 143, 146), St Maximus the Confessor (chapters 76, 81, 88, 90, 111), St Symeonthe Translator (chapter 149). The inclusion of quotes from two or more authors in the same chapter stronglysuggests the use of anthologies. 2
 
Before proceeding to analyse the structure of the work, a misunderstanding maintained by arecent scholar of Palamism will be briefly addressed. Misled by the title that echoes the monastic
κεφάλαια
and also perhaps ignoring both the developments occurring within this genre and theheterogeneous character of the compilation, Papademetriou
7
includes the book – presented as
Chapters Physical, Theological, Ethical and Practical 
– within St Gregory’s ascetic and spiritualwritings. In his view, such a classification would be justified by the supposed concern of the……….30……….
Chapters
to explain the ‘spiritual exercise anthropologically, dogmatically and ethically’. Nothingof this kind, however, can be found therein.
The structure of the
One Hundred and Fifty Chapters
To get closer to our topic, a review of the
Chapters
’ structure is necessary; from the outset, itshould be pointed out that there is no consensus on this matter amongst the scholars. Thus, seekingto substantiate the presumed coherence of the work and speculating its title, Chrestou ingeniouslydivides the content into four sections
8
: natural chapters (1-33), theological chapters (34-40), ethicaland practical chapters (41-67), and chapters against the Barlaamite defilement (68-150). Thisapproach pertinently highlights the various difficulties involved with classifying St Gregory’s work  by taking into consideration its intricate structure. Yet, Chrestou’s division remains artificial andinaccurate. For example, what he designates as ethical and practical chapters refers mostly to agroup of 
κεφάλαια
that explore the Genesis story of paradise and the fall, therefore being mostly of exegetical significance. In turn, following closely in the footsteps of Sinkewicz
9
,the editors of theEnglish version of 
The Philokalia
divide the content into two large sections
,1-63 (‘a generalsurvey of the divine economy of creation and salvation’; this section comprises eight subsections)and 64-150 (‘a refutation of false teachings concerning the divine light of Tabor and the uncreatedenergies of God’). Although this compartmentalisation might reflect more accurately the content of the book, it fails to emphasise the apologetic-like character of that which features below as the firstsection.It is this paper’s contention that the content of the
Chapters
unfolds as three main sections of unequal length (of which the third is the lengthiest) and thematically disconnected. The first section(chapters 1-29), which constitutes the main target here, reiterates early Christian apologetics
  byengaging in a dialogue with Greek philosophy and science, mainly in regards to issues raised byPlatonic and Stoic worldviews. Given that after the closing of the last philosophical school of 
6
This aspect echoes the ideas expounded by Palamas in the prologue of 
 
Ἁγιορειτικὸς τόμος
, or 
The Declaration of the Holy Mountain in Defence of Those who Devoutly Practise a Life of Stillness
, in
The Philokalia
, vol. 4, 418-9. For the original text, see
 
Γρηγορίου τοῦ Παλαμᾶ
,
 
 Ἁπάντα τὰ Ἒργα
 
vol. 3(
Θεσσαλονίκη
, 1983) 496-8. For notes on the prologue, cf. D. Costache, ‘The Seekers of Truth, theEgalitarian Myth and the Aristocracy of Spirit: Reconnecting Today with Mystical Tradition’
 Inter: Romanian Review for Theological and Religious Studies
2/1-2 (2008) 363-4; idem, ‘The Living Tradition of the Saints: Notes on the Prologue of the
Tomos
(Declaration) of the Holy Mountain’
Voice of Orthodoxy
30/7 (July 2008)75-6.
7
Cf.
 Introduction to St Gregory Palamas
18.
8
Cf.
«Εἰσαγωγή»
8.
9
Cf.
Saint Gregory Palamas
2-4.
10
Cf.
 Philokalia
, vol. 4, 291.
11
This aspect is not considered by G.I. Mantzaridis, who divides the Palamite corpus in anti-scholastic and pastoral writings; cf.
The Deification of Man: St Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition
(Crestwood: StVladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984) 11. 3

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